TCNJ, Julia Setaro
Julia Setaro (Photo by Michael J. Franco - JSN)

Julia Setaro scores 24 for TCNJ en route to NJAC Championship game

The Ramapo Roadrunners were coming off the high of their first NJAC tournament victory but ran into the No. 1 TCNJ Lions. A strong start gave the Lions a 70-50 win in the NJAC Tournament semifinals.

Pairs of threes from guards Julia Setaro and Nina Branchizio had TCNJ rolling early. The team was on fire, making eight of their first ten shots as they went on a 14-0 run.

Despite the lead being firmly in TCNJ's grasp, Ramapo continued to fight. TCNJ was up 23-7 at the 1:49 mark, but Ramapo went on a 10-2 run spearheaded by guards Jackie Ventricelli and Jada Thompson. Ventricelli, the NJAC Defensive Player of the Year, hit the three that started the run and followed up with a fastbreak jump shot in the paint. Thompson had a layup and a three-point buzzer-beater that cut TCNJ's lead to just eight points.

Despite still being down, Ramapo undoubtedly had the momentum. They scored 10 points in under two minutes, and their offense was clicking. TCNJ soon shut Ramapo's momentum down. 

The two Roadrunners who had made significant contributions in their recent run, Ventricelli and Thompson, had a turnover early in the second quarter. Simple mistakes and missing their first six shots of the quarter gave the momentum right back to TCNJ. Showing that they were ranked No. 1 for a reason, the Lions were on the prowl, getting high-quality shots close to the rim. They made the game easier for themselves with their patience and not forcing anything. 

Much like in the first quarter, TCNJ slowed down as it surged on. They went scoreless for nearly five minutes but had already built such a strong lead that it was difficult for Ramapo to make a dent. The Lions still took good care of the ball and had hardly any turnovers. TCNJ was up at halftime, 42-24. With their backs up against the wall and everything on the line, Ramapo needed to show some life. Slowly but surely, they chipped away at the Lions' lead. 

Thompson had a big third quarter, scoring nine points, with eight points coming in the paint. She was contributing on both ends of the floor, playing tough, physical defense, like when she blocked a three-point attempt from Julia Setaro. 

Ramapo cut the lead to 55-44 with 35 seconds left in the third, the closest they would get for the remainder of the game. 

After scoring 20 points in the third, the Roadrunners ran out of gas. They only put up six points in the fourth quarter, going on an offensive drought. It felt like no one could get anything to fall, even with shots in the paint. TCNJ locked in on defense and was extra active to preserve their lead that had been dwindling.

With a final score of 70-50, the Lions were victorious. Although 20 points may seem like a wide margin, the game was by no means out of hand. Several times, Ramapo scratched and clawed their way back into it, only for TCNJ to eventually shut them down.

Standout Julia Setaro finished the game with 24 points and frequently drew contact when attacking the rim. She was perfect from the free-throw line, shooting 9-for-9. The only other Lion in double-digits was Nina Branchizio, who posted 10 points.

With the win, the Lions moved to 18-8 on the season. They now advance to the New Jersey Athletic Conference championship game, where they'll face the NJCU Knights and NJAC Player of the Year Damaris Rodriguez, who eliminated them from the last two NJAC tournaments. The game will be held at Packer Hall on Friday at 7 p.m.